Despite the intimidating title, Uranium Wars is, above all, a story about people. The author introduces us to the key players in the discovery of uranium and the history of nuclear arms, bringing us into the lives and struggles of the scientists, with brief interludes to explain some of the science (in remarkably easy and accessible language). He shows us Marie Curie (among many others) as a student searching for a Ph.D. thesis and graduating with what was the start of Nobelwinning research. He details the rivalry between Curie’s daughter, Nobel Laureate Irene Joliot-Curie, and Lise Meitner, two women racing to explain how a nucleus splits at a time when very few women dominated any scientific discipline.
The relationships among the scientists bring history to life and the sections about the role of the Nazis in the arms race are gripping. Aczel ends with a look at the U.S.’s own questionable decision to drop the bomb — the final product of the scientists’ research — onto Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some of the most memorable chapters show Aczel, and the rest of the world, struggling to understand what the scientists knew and didn’t know about the intended use of their efforts, and what their feelings were when it happened.
Endnotes, illustrations, insert, references.
Ada Brunstein is the Head of Reference at a university press.